An Orangeburg County landmark on U.S. 301 South has become a part of the skyline.
The 525-foot stack rising above the tree tops from the South Carolina Electric and Gas Cope Generating Station, the utility company’s newest coal-fired plant, is unmistakable.
Instead of smoke, the stack emits condensation from the plant’s cooling system. The Cope Generating Station draws water for operations from a deep aquifer in the area and routinely uses 4.5 million gallons of water a day for its operations.
Plant construction began in 1992. The station was ready for operation before its May 1996 deadline, officially coming online Jan. 15, 1996.
The $411 million project came in about $34 million under budget.
At the peak of its construction, the plant employed about 750 and paid a combined $65 million in wages. Today the plant employs about 73 people and pays approximately $7.2 million in property taxes annually.
The facility, which sits on 3,200 acres, was designed so that only half an acre of the 1,700 acres of wetlands would be disturbed. Nearly 400 acres of wetlands along the South Fork of the Edisto River were included in a conservation easement to the Congaree Land Trust as a hardwood and cypress preserve.
The South Fork of the Edisto River is used as a backup water supply. The amount of water drawn from the river, when needed, is about 4 percent of its normal river flow, and the river’s required minimum flow is maintained at all times.
The Cope Station generates 430 megawatts of electricity by burning about 160 tons of coal per hour. At full load, the plant can produce enough power in one hour to supply the average electric needs of 430 residential customers for one month.
The facility consistently ranks in the top 20 plants for efficiency, according to Electric Light & Power magazine.
The plant was designed and built with a dry scrubber to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The scrubber eliminates more than 95 percent of SO2. A co-benefit is that approximately 60-90 percent of mercury emissions are eliminated.
The Cope Station was also equipped with baghouses that remove 99 percent of fly ash from the combustion process. The boiler also had low-NOx burners installed in its initial construction.
But even the most efficient plants require preventative maintenance. Since 2008, SCE&G has installed more than $600 million in environmental equipment, reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury.
Selective catalytic reduction equipment officially came online in 2008 to reduce nitrous oxide gases even further. The total cost was more than $69 million, and will reduce NOx emissions by more than 70 percent.
SCE&G is a regulated public utility engaged in the generation, transmission, distribution and sale of electricity to approximately 661,000 customers in South Carolina.